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22 February 2024

Pool A: World T20 champions Sri Lanka aim to end heartbreak

Dhammika Prasad of Sri Lanka celebrates taking a wicket during the One Day International match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka at University Oval on January 25, 2015 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Getty)


Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene will join hands for the last time in their brilliant careers to plot Sri Lanka's World Cup campaign, hoping to make amends for two successive heartbreaks.

The missing link in the enduring partnership between the two 37-year-olds that started at the turn of the century is the absence of a World Cup triumph despite coming so near.

Jayawardene was captain when Sri Lanka reached the final of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, only to see Australia cruise to a 53-run win in near-darkness in Barbados.

Four years later in India, Sangakkara was at the helm in the title clash when Mahendra Singh Dhoni's home team inflicted a six-wicket defeat despite a magnificent 103 off 88 balls by Jayawardene.

The two veterans, who go into the World Cup as the leading run-getters in one-day cricket among those still playing, took the setbacks in their stride and looked positively ahead at the future.

"We may not have won those two tournaments, but reaching two successive finals showed we played consistently well," said Jayawardene. "Hopefully we can cross the line this time."

Jayawardene will hang his boots after the World Cup, having already retired from Test and Twenty20 cricket last year to concentrate on his fifth appearance in the showpiece event.

Sangakkara will also bid farewell to limited-overs cricket after the World Cup, but remains undecided about prolonging his Test career after enjoying a tremendous run with the bat in recent months.

The World Cup gives both a last chance to bow out in a blaze of glory and the signs are already encouraging that this could be Sri Lanka's year in Australia and New Zealand.

In Sangakkara and Jayawardene's final T20 appearance last April, Sri Lanka won the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh to end a drought of major titles since they took the World Cup in 1996.

Angelo Mathews' men won more one-dayers (20 out of 32) than any other team in 2014, including the Asia Cup title that also featured defending World Cup champions India and Pakistan.

Sri Lankans dominate the run-getters' list for the year gone by with left-handed Sangakkara leading the pack with 1,256 runs, followed by Mathews in second place with 1,244 and opener Tillakaratne Dilshan in fourth with 990.

Unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis topped the bowling charts with 38 wickets, but still failed to make the World Cup squad as the selectors went with left-armer Rangana Herath and off-spinner Sachithra Senanayake instead.

Sri Lanka will sweat over the fitness of pace spearhead Lasith Malinga, who was picked for the World Cup in a gamble by the selectors despite being sidelined following an ankle surgery in September.

The devastating sling-armer, 31, who is the only bowler in history to claim three hat-tricks in one-day internationals, is expected to be fit by the tournament opener against New Zealand on February 14, but is not guaranteed a place in the side yet.



Angelo Mathews (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Dhammika Prasad, Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake.

Coach: Marvan Atapattu

Fixtures - Pool A:

Feb 14: New Zealand, Christchurch
Feb 22: Afghanistan, Dunedin
Feb 26: Bangladesh, Melbourne
Mar  1: England, Wellington
Mar  8: Australia, Sydney
Mar 11: Scotland, Hobart

World Cup record:

1975: First round
1979: First round
1983: First round
1987: First round
1992: First round
1996: Champions
1999: First round
2003: Semi-finals
2007: Runners-up
2011: Runners-up

Key player:

Kumar Sangakkara

At 37, the veteran batsman shows no signs of ageing, nor has his insatiable appetite for runs diminished. He was the world's highest run-getter in both Test and one-day cricket in 2014.

The icing on the cake would be being part of a World Cup winning team after ending on the losing side in the last two editions in 2007 and 2011.

This will be the final one-day tournament for both him and long-time team-mate Mahela Jayawardene and the duo will look to sign off on a high, just as they did in their last T20 international where Sri Lanka won the World Twenty20 last year.